Sweeter the second time around
Love is sweeter the second time around. It’s a cliché but for Sonia and Jerry Hoffman, although their first loves can never be replaced, the second time has its own special meaning. For this elderly couple not even cultural, racial and individual differences could separate them. The two do not need Valentine’s Day to celebrate their love for each other because they are always celebrating love every day.
Sonia, now 64, and Jerry, 70, met during the most difficult times in their lives.
“We both lost our spouses. Maybe it’s the loneliness that brought us together, that eventually blossomed into love,” Sonia says.
A life of struggle
In 1984, Sonia Mallari joined thousands of OFWs in Hong Kong armed with hopes and dreams for her family. Her youngest son, Anthony, was only three years old then.
“My daughters were already in high school. They are all bright. We wanted them to send to the university to fulfill their dreams,” Sonia recalls.
Sonia was brought to the US by her diplomat employer under a G5 visa in 1989. Eventually, she left her job in Washington, DC, to take care of her aunt in New York. Her aunt sponsored her for a green card. She then enrolled at Franklin Career Institute to study nursing. While studying, she held three jobs every day with only four hours of sleep to get by. She planned to petition for her family, but only Anthony was able to immigrate in 2002.
While her children were still in the university, her husband became ill.
“My eldest, Eugenia, would call and ask for money because their dad was in the hospital. My salary just passed through my hand. I could not go home because I didn’t have enough for the tickets,” Sonia relates.
In 2004, Sonia’s husband passed away.
All her sacrifices for her children paid off though. Eugenia is now a nurse in Thailand; Connie, a midwife, is in Canada with her family; Marilou is a fitness instructor and Anthony is a professional photographer in New York.
Every Sunday and during Wednesday services, Sonia attended the Farmingdale Baptist Church where there were also Filipino members. In 1993, she met Nancy and Jerry Hoffman. The couple has four young kids, Theresa, Greg, Gerard and Christina. Nancy would oftentimes cook during the fellowship.
“My first wife and Sonia both love children. They took care of the kids after the service,” Gerard shares.
He continues: “When my wife died in 1995. I did not even think of marrying because I focused my time on my children.”
After Nancy’s death, Gerard needed a baby-sitter. Learning that Sonia was a nanny, he asked her to sit for Christina, her daughter.
“I thought he was mean. So I made my fee higher so he couldn’t employ me,” Sonia laughs.
Eventually, they went their own ways. Sonia moved to Upstate New York to work. Gerard moved on with his life and raised his kids.
Crossing the path again
Anthony got a part-time job every Sunday in Farmingdale, and Sonia decided to attend the Church service again.
One Wednesday Service in 2002, Jerry and Sonia’s path crossed again. Jerry was friendlier, always joking and talking to everybody. There was nothing special between them.
When Sonia’s husband died, she became close to Jerry’s daughter Christina.
“Christina and I would go out. Sometimes Jerry would hang out with us too,” Sonia laughs.
Later, it was Jerry and Sonia who went on dates and Christina was the “chaperon.” On Christmas Day of 2007, Gerard proposed and gave Sonia an engagement ring.
‘Can’t live without you’
Age and financial stability are not always factors in settling down. Jerry and Sonia postponed their wedding date for another year.
Sonia went to her daughter Connie in Canada hoping to find a job and to reflect if she and Jerry were really meant for each other.
On her first day away from Jerry, they had Skype calls non-stop, followed by more calls day and night. The two realized that they could never live afar from each other.
“Connie told me to go back to the US to marry Jerry. I told my plans to my other daughters and they all agreed, except Anthony who told me matanda ka na, Mama (You’re already too old, Mama),” Sonia laughs.
After a few months, Jerry sent her a ticket to go back “home.”
On May 30, 2009, Sonia became Mrs. Hoffman.
Sonia believes that all people regardless of age have the right to be happy and have companions.
“I worked in a caregiving facility. Older people do fall in love and we supported them,” Sonia says.
Eugenia, Sonia’s eldest, agreed with her mother’s decision. The siblings never blamed their mother despite her absence during the most important phases of their life. Sonia visited the Philippines for the first time in 2015.
“I am always grateful to Uncle Jerry and Mama for the love and everything,” Eugenia says.
Since Sonia was not able to attend any of her graduations in the Philippines, Eugenia hopes that when she gets her PhD in Thailand, Sonia and Jerry would be there.
Keeping the love alive
Jerry says there is really no formula for a successful marriage. Like most couples, they have misunderstandings. But they “enjoy things together” and have similar moral views on raising children.
Sonia and Jerry both understand that despite having successful children, they still need parenting and help. Christina still lives with the couple.
“Sonia enjoys my family. She loves my kids and grandchildren whom she accepts as her own. These are very important to me,” Jerry smiles.
“Whenever I’m away, he would call me and say he misses me. And I feel the same way too,” Sonia says.
Now the two are semi-retired and spending more time together.
“As couples, we always forgive and forget about the past. We are keeping our promise of ‘til death do us part.’ That means no divorce,” Sonia declares.